Maquaqua Established Site
From the early 1700s the Downriver area was inhabited by French farmers and Wyandott Native Americans. The French had established a fort at Detroit to extend their fur trade empire, and the Wyandott Native Americans had joined them at their new outpost. The fort proved successful and the French settlers had been granted tracts of land for farms. These early farms extended along the Detroit River into land that became known as Ecorse Township.
The village of Maquaqua was truly the beginning of our present community. That small site became the nucleus of the City of Wyandotte, Michigan. Historians tell us that the Wyandots built their village in 1732. The original village extended from approximately Oak Street to Eureka Avenue, and from Biddle Avenue to the Detroit River.
Ecorse Township Formed
The City of Wyandotte was incorporated from a section of Ecorse Township. The entire township was originally 54 square miles and was formed by an act of the Michigan State Legislature on April 12, 1827. Eight other Townships were formed in Wayne County at the same time. Ecorse Township included all of the area from the Detroit River west to Telegraph Road, and from Pennsylvania Road north to the Rouge River. The name of the original township was taken from the "Riviere Aux Ecorces"(meaning Bark River). The river was so named by the early French settlers in the area because of the old Indian custom of wrapping their dead in birch or elm bark, and burying them along the mouth of the river in sand dunes.
Village of Wyandotte Chartered
In 1818, Major John Biddle purchased much of the site that would someday become Wyandotte. Register of the Government Land Office, Mayor of Detroit, and trustee of the Michigan University, John Biddle was the first notable American of European descent in the area. Downriver appealed to Biddle, who thought he could live the life of a gentleman farmer. Wyandotte was farmland and wooded areas at the time when Biddle bought the land in 1818 and built his farm (or, summer estate as he referred to it) on the corner of Biddle and Vinewood. He wanted it to be a retreat from the hustle and bustle of Detroit city life. He named his estate “Wyandotte.” The Georgian style home was completed in 1835. From 1836 to 1848 Biddle lived here in Wyandotte. When the city was established, West Jefferson was named Biddle in John Biddle’s honor, in respect to his reputation and the location of his early estate. In 1854 Biddle sold his land to Capt. Eber Ward and the Eureka Iron Company.
The land initally purchased by the Eureka Iron Company back in 1854 went beyond the village limits. Some sections were in present day Southgate and Taylor. The deed to the village recorded the area as being one mile square. The streets of the village were planned according to the Philadelphia pattern, which originated with William Penn, and often called a gridiron. He designated one boundary line of Front Street as the beginning point. Streets running parallel to this Front Street were named according to numbers from First to the extent of the territory involved. Streets running horizontal to the numbered streets were named for trees and plants, things that “spontaneously grow in the country", in accordance with the Quaker love of Botany.
The plat of the village thus assumed a checkerboard effect. The system became a truly American pattern which spread throughout the New England and Midwestern states. The focal point became the river and the first street parallel to it became Front Street. This street was eventually extended and renamed Van Alstyne Boulevard in 1921. In 1954, Wyandotte celebrated their 100th anniversary as a formal village. The festive year was marked with much pageantry and a grand parade. Wyandotte’s citizens enjoyed looking back to 1854 when our community was first chartered as a village.
City of Wyandotte is Incorporated & Industry Flourishes
On April 8, 1867 the Village of Wyandotte was incorporated as a home rule city. At the time of incorporation, Wyandotte was a flourishing industrial community. The Eureka Iron Company and the Rolling Mills, estbalished by Captain Eber Ward, dominated the riverfront, and the residential community was spreading out westward to the railroad tracks. The Iron Works flourished for some time, utilizing the iron ore from the upper peninsula of Michigan and the vast forests in the area for fuel. The first steel using the Bessemer steel process was produced from the Eureka Works. With the iron market prices falling and the exhaustion of wood for fuel the Eureka Iron Works was rapidly declining through the 1880's, and finally closed in 1892. However, the Iron Works lead the way for a new industry to develop. This industry was chemicals.
The new growing city boundaries extended from Grove Street on the south to Northline, and from the riverfront to the railroad tracks bordering the west.
Captain J.B. Ford, pioneer industrialist was involved with the manufacture of plate glass in the United States. During the decline of the Eureka Iron Works a new and cheap fuel source was being sought to fuel the Works blast furnaces. Drilling in Wyandotte produced no fuel; however, a large bed of salt was discovered. Captain Ford, upon hearing of the salt bed, knew that salt was an important ingredient in the manufacture of soda ash which was used to make his plate glass. This lead the way for his chemical industry. Begun in the 1890's the Michigan Alkali Company produced a wide variety of chemicals. In the 1940's the name changed to the Wyandotte Chemicals Company and its cleaners, soap and other detergents were shipped world-wide. The industry still exists today, but under the name of BASF.
Other industries followed the Iron Works too. These industries included Wyandotte's infamous shipbuilding (1871-1920's) started by Eber B. Ward. Wyandotte produced over 200 ships, varying from small tugs to large steamers and passenger ferries. Under the name of the American Shipbuilding Company the Wyandotte yards flourished. Hulls were constructed in Wyandotte and were taken up the Detroit River to Detroit, Michigan were they were outfitted. Smaller companies such as the E.H. Doyle Hoop & Stave Works (who provided the city's first electric power in 1889), the Regeant Stove Company, the McCord Corp., the Beals & Selkirk Trunk Company, and the Wyandotte Toys Company soon made Wyandotte a famous industrial town.
Soon, many workers were needed and in turn the workers needed homes. Grocery stores, saloons, hotels, theaters and railroads began operating and Wyandotte grew. In 1860 Wyandotte's population was 1,700, reaching a peak in 1960 at about 43,000. Today the population is about 26,000.
South Detroit Subdivision Annexed
A small unincorporated portion of Ecorse Township lay to the south of Wyandotte. The section extended from Grove Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, and eastward from the railroad tracks to the riverfront. During the 1890s land promoters had planned the site as a future residential park. Riverboat excursions and promises of tax amnesties lured home buyers to the subdivision.
Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing and Michigan Alkali Company were the principal industries in the subdivision. After an annexation vote of 30 to 10, the small unincorporated section became a part of Wyandotte on June 15, 1904.
Immediately following the annexation, city officials showed good faith to the new community by extending water mains and street lights into the new area. Original street names were changed to correspond to numbered streets in Wyandotte - Lansing (6th), Edgar Thompson (7th), and Adrian (8th).
Village of Glenwood Annexed
The Village of Glenwood lay to the west of Wyandotte. It truly was the area on the "other side of the tracks." Wyandotters often referred to the section of scattered homes and farm houses as "New Jerusalem" because the majority of its working class citizenry had emigrated from Middle Eastern Europe. The ducks and geese running freely among the tethered cows along the roadways did not at first generate warm feelings between the communities on both sides of the railroad tracks.
The area became incorporated as the Village of Glenwood in 1900. The village boundary extended from Eureka to Northline Road (Ford) and from the railroad tracks to approximately 17th Street.
The citizens of Glenwood soon realized that another Glenwood existed in Michigan, and they could not use the name as a post office address. So the village post office was designated as Bacon, named in honor of Congressman, M. R. Bacon, a pioneer and local leader in Glenwood.
As the village population grew, officials realized that the utilities and municipal services of nearby Wyandotte were desperately needed. A fire starting In a Glenwood bakery had gutted several other buildings, and citizens demanded fire protection and a reliable water supply. The community petitioned to be annexed to Wyandotte. The citizens voted 125 to 42, and on December 1, 1905 Glenwood became a part of Wyandotte. Bonfires and wild celebrations marked the occasion for several nights. Afterward, the grand sum of $2.51 in the Glenwood treasury was turned over to Wyandotte’s officials.
In 1926 the City of Wyandotte purchased property on the west side to be used as a park. In honor of the former village, it was called Glenwood Park. Later the name was changed to Pulaski Park.
The Village of Ford City Annexed
In 1922, The Village of Ford City, which lay to the north of Wyandotte, was annexed. The annexed area extended from Northline Road to the Ecorse Creek, and from the Detroit River to approximately Seventeenth Street. In 1902, the village was named in honor of J. B. Ford, President of the Michigan Alkali Company (now BASF Wyandotte) and prominent citizen in local affairs. All was not going well in Ford City during its years of growing. The Michigan Alkali Company had spread out along the Detroit River into both Ford City and Wyandotte. Each municipally assessed and taxed the chemical company differently. Certain necessary services and utilities readily available in Wyandotte were not available in Ford City. The Michigan Alkali Company had strongly sought tax relief and expanded utility services and suggested merging the two communities.
Unincorporated Ecorse Township Annexed
During a period of feverish merger and annexation activity in the metropolitan Detroit area, foresighted citizens of Wyandotte looked west to an unincorporated section of Ecorse Township. The area extended north of Eureka Avenue from Seventeenth Street to Fort Street, and from Pennsylvania north to Goddard Road. This village of Lincoln Park wooed the citizens of the area and wanted to add them to their growing community. Wyandotters realized the wisdom of extending their western boundary to include land for future residential housing, and election totals for the vote on the merger showed 3,066 yeas to 573 nays. On April 14, 1924, a large section of Ecorse Township was annexed to Wyandotte.
Wyandotte, as many other cities, has made a change from the industrial town it once was to a more residential city; however, it still maintains its small town atmosphere having its own electric and water plants, cable company and a multitude of parks. It boasts older homes on streets lined with mature oaks and maples.
This information and more is available in booklet form in "More Than a Typical American City," available at the Wyandotte Museums Gift Shop.